Maro Engel, Mikael Grenier and Raffaele Marciello dominated Kyalami 9 Hour qualifying to claim GruppeM Racing and Mercedes-AMG’s second pole position in as many Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli events – but With home track advantage, Sheldon van der Linde (with Dries Vantoor and Charles Weerts) is ready to take a BMW bite out of that.
But, while it was Engel who starred at Bathurst three weeks ago, this performance owed just as much to the speed of his co-drivers who also topped their respective 15-minute sessions. The trio’s 1m42.617s average was 0.324s faster than the best of Team WRT’s BMWs shared by Vanthoor, Van der Linde and Weerts, while Marciello also comfortably clocked the quickest individual lap.
The second BMW of Philipp Eng, Augusto Farfus and Maxime Martin missed the front row by just 0.028s.
Further back, Earl Bamber set the second quickest time of all but couldn’t prevent SunEnergy1 by SPS from beating Grove Racing to Pro-Am top spot. Their respective Mercedes-AMG and Porsche start sixth and seventh overall just behind Tresor Attempto’s Audis.
Mercedes-AMG took an unopposed pole position at Kyalami last season when heavy rain washed out qualifying, but the German manufacturer fully earned its place up front this time around during a session bathed in sunshine.
Several cars took turns at the top in Q1 before Engel set the session’s best on his final lap. 1m43.167s was enough to beat Vanthoor by just over a tenth and lay the foundations for what would follow.
Mattia Drudi, meanwhile, twice went fastest before finishing eight hundredths shy of the BMW ahead, while Eng was a further tenth back but part of a trio that would battle for a front row grid slot across all three sessions.
Next, it was Grenier’s turn to shine. With fuel consumption ensuring times improved, it was no surprise when the Canadian set the first sub-1m43s lap and then improved again to 1m42.6s. Local favourite Van der Linde wasn’t far behind but couldn’t quite match the Mercedes-AMG’s pace, while Farfus moved WRT’s other M4 up to third provisionally at Ricardo Feller’s expense.
At that stage GruppeM enjoyed a 0.117s advantage over the #32 BMW. But that would eventually extend to beyond three tenths once Marciello set fastest time of the weekend so far. His initial effort was beaten by Bamber but the Swiss regrouped, went again and unleashed a stunning a 1m42.029s that put pole position beyond any doubt.
Behind, Patric Niederhauser threatened to gate crash WRT’s party by jumping ahead of both Weerts and Martin. However, both BMW drivers improved on their second push laps to restore order. Just 0.028s separated #32 and #33 in the final averaged classification.
Tresor Attempto’s #66 Audi was only 0.057s further back and just over a tenth quicker than the sister R8 LMS GT3 shared by Markus Winkelhock, Dennis Marschall and Alex Aka.
Testing and practice pace had marked out Jules Gounon as the most likely candidate for fastest individual time. He ultimately ended up third quickest overall behind Marciello and Bamber, although that mattered little to SunEnergy1 which secured Pro-Am pole from Grove Racing by 0.6s. Credit for that advantage must also go to Yannick Mettler who finished fifth overall and comfortably amongst the Pros in Q1.
Both of those entries will also battle for IGTC Independent Cup points on Saturday.
The SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG finished eighth and ahead of the first South African crew – Stradale Motorsport’s Charl Arangies, Arnold Neveling and Clint Weston.
MJR Motorsport’s Audi, which is also contesting all nine hours in the hands of local drivers Kwanda Mokoena, Mo Mia and Marius Jackson, completed the overall top-10.
Kyalami Supercup pole went to NGK Pablo Clark Racing’s Mikaeel Pitamber who beat Sun Moodley (BigFoot Express Racing) and Joseph Ellerine (MJR Motorsport). Those three entries will only complete the opening hour of today’s race.